Out of all the tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) restaurants in Tokyo, numbering in the thousands, nowhere seems to do it as well as Tonki near Meguro Station.
For almost 80 years, Tonki has been serving tonkatsu, a type of pork cutlet which is breaded in Japanese-style panko breadcrumbs and deep-fried until crispy.
It may be old-fashioned, but Tonki is an institution of Tokyo. Many will debate which is better: Tonki or Maisen.
I tend to side with Tonki and I’m not the only one. Since 1939, Tonki has served tonkatsu to many die-hard fans of the traditional Japanese dish.
From the outside, the restaurant looked dull. On my first visit, I walked by confused if I was at the right place.
Once I passed inside through the sliding wooden doors, everything changed. The spacious room was without any decorations and extremely bright. The aroma of fried pork and oil hit me right away.
There were no tables. Just a single counter surrounding a vast and busy kitchen. Every seat at the counter was taken by what appeared to be mostly locals quietly enjoying their meal.
For how many people were packed inside, I was surprised just how quiet it was. The only sounds I really heard were the shouts of workers greeting customers and the sound of oil bubbling in large circular vats. People seemed to eat and move on ensuring that the wait was never too long.
Behind the counter was a line of seated customers waiting patiently for their turn to sit at the counter. My wait was about 20 minutes, but it was worth the wait.
In the kitchen, the chefs were decked out in white from head to toes. They seemed to move around the kitchen as if it was choreographed. Everyone had one job, and one job only whether it was taking orders, frying the pork, or slicing cabbage. The wait seemed non-existent with the show going on in front of me.
The one thing that stuck out on my visit, other than the food, was an older gentleman whose job it was to cut and plate each piece of pork. I felt like his job was the most vital to the success of the restaurant.
Using his large razor-edged knife, the man, with his sharply curved back, bent over and meticulously cut each piece of pork placed in front of him. With his eyes focused on the pork, it was like nothing else in the world mattered.
Slicing the pork was the chefs one job and probably the most important and senior role. I wondered how many pieces of pork he has cut in his life. I assume the years of bending over and cutting has taken a toll on his back. He has my respect.
As you might have noticed, the menu at Tonki was quite simple. The options were limited: rōsu-katsu (pork loin) or hire-katsu (pork fillet). Rōsu is usually juicier and more flavorful, but the fattier of the two. Hire is a leaner and more expensive cut of pork.
Most people seemed to choose the fatty loin cutlet. More fat, more flavor.
Served with each order was a pork-miso soup (tonjiru), white rice, pickled vegetables, and a huge pile of finely sliced cabbage. Even better, all sides were refillable.
That’s all. No ramen, no seafood, no noodles. Just tonkatsu.
Rohsu-Katsu Teishoku (Loin Cutlet)
With only two options on the menu, I found myself debating which pork cutlet to order. After a long internal battle with my thoughts, I decided to order the Rohsu-Katsu Teishoku (1,900 yen or about $16.67).
This fancy sounding dish was simply a 160g (5.6oz) pork loin cutlet.
After sitting down at the bar, it took a good 10 or 15 minutes to receive my pork, but the wait was worth it, especially with a cold beer and the view of the kitchen.
As mentioned before, paired with the tonkatsu was a pork-miso soup, white rice, and pickled vegetables along with thinly sliced cabbage, a tomato wedge, and a spicy yellow mustard. It was quite beautiful to see the assortment of colorful food in front of me, like a work of culinary art.
The star of the dish was the pork. This is why there was a wait. With my first bite, I immediately knew why.
The thing that caught my attention was the coating of pork. It was thick, crunchy, and almost dark brown from being cooked in the vats of hot oil for a few extra minutes. The tonkatsu served here was fried extra crispy. If you prefer a lighter, fluffy crust, you will be sadly disappointed.
Under the coating was a mixture of meat and fatty parts. Since the pork was fried longer than normal, the meat was not as juicy and tender as you would have expected.
Complimenting the meat was a layer of translucent fat. This fat was packed with intense flavors that melted in my mouth. The rich flavors of the fat reminded me of bacon. If fatty pieces of pork aren’t your thing, go for the leaner loin.
I can’t forget about the spicy yellow mustard. I love this stuff. A good kick of heat with the burn of wasabi. If this is too spicy for you, minimize the heat by mixing the mustard with katsu sauce found in bottles on the counter. The katsu sauce was sweet and salty, almost like a BBQ sauce. The sweetness and saltiness of the katsu paired well with spicy yellow mustard.
Want more pork? You’re in luck.
Floating in the slightly salty yet light miso soup broth was a generous amount of pork pieces. Those who love pork will be pleased that the soup had more pork than tofu. And you guessed it, the pork was fatty, juicy, and packed with flavor that permeated into the broth.
The rice, pickled vegetables, and sliced cabbage at first seemed somewhat ordinary, but it paired perfectly with the tonkatsu. I couldn’t stop eating the cabbage. I was like a child on Christmas morning when the worker came around with the large bowl of sliced cabbage.
From the moment I walked in and was presented with a menu, I felt welcomed, even being one of the only tourists.
Though interaction between the busy workers was limited, everything ran smoothly. Everyone knew exactly what to do to ensure everyone was served quickly.
I loved how attentive the workers were to me. They came around multiple times asking if I needed a refill on rice, miso soup, or cabbage
I feel bad reviewing Tonki as I feel like it is off the beaten path for most tourists. I want to keep it for myself.
Of all the restaurants in Tokyo I have visited, nothing compares to Tonki. I always recommend Tonki to my friends traveling to Tokyo.
The food, the kitchen, the workers, the counter. Everything makes me want to stop at Tonki each time I return to Japan.
Does it have the best tonkatsu in Tokyo? I think so. It may not be the most refined, Top Chef quality tonkatsu dish I have ever had, but there was just something special about a homemade style fried pork cutlet.
When I left, my clothes smelled of pork for the next day, and I loved it.
- One of the best tonkatsu in Tokyo
- Delicious, crispy, tender, fatty, flavorful pork cutlet
- The show going on in the kitchen was enjoyable to watch, especially while waiting
- Packed with locals
- Accepted credit cards
- Always a wait for dinner
- Limited items on the menu